February brings ‘Back To School Night‘ at the independent school where I teach, when (as part of Institutional Advancement) alumni are invited ‘back to school’ for an evening of classes offered by the current faculty. Most of the classes involve something other than would normally be found on the regular school schedule, so I get a chance to talk about beer! I have offered and taught the class ‘Craft Beer 101‘, since 2007.
Over the years I’ve organized many tastings, talks and presentations, ranging from the very formal to the much less ‘official’, but each time catering to the specific needs of the situation or the person that I am organizing things for/with. Back to School night is split into two separate parts. Firstly a 60 minute class takes you through my Craft Beer 101 presentation and then we follow-up with an informal gathering at a local bar to sample some beer and go over some tasting notes.
Back To School night generally involves somewhere between 10 and 20 people, each receiving approx. 4 oz pours, with five beers in the flight. There’s usually no theme on this one (which of course is an option), rather we’re just looking for a nice, simple representative sampling of styles, with nothing too taxing for the participants. It’s also depends upon what Local Three (our local bar of choice) has on their beer list at the time, so the selection is generally fairly straightforward but nevertheless solid.
Handouts and Logistics:
I have a 45 minute Powerpoint that goes with the class that goes into a little depth about history, ingredients etc., but it’s not a lecture, more of a conversation where the Powerpoint is going on in the background.
Here’s a list of the handouts that accompany the presentation.
Who owns what? – Insight for those that think 100’s of different macro brands mean 100’s of different owners!
Where does craft beer stack up in terms of sales? – Theses figures are slightly out of date, but they give the general picture.
Craft versus BMC – Something to bust a few myths!
Beer Styles – Always a good idea to give people an idea of the incredible range of styles that one can be exposed to. Blows the thought of beer only being ‘American adjunct lager’ out of the water.
Glassware – An introduction to the aesthetics associated with beer drinking and tasting.
Beer Flavor Wheel – A useful handle for people to articulate what they are tasting.
There are three scoresheets here, here and here which also help with generating adjectives to describe taste. Obviously not especially appropriate since we are not talking about rating to style here, or even a semi-formal tasting, but at the same time they do give categories of appearance, nose, flavor, mouthfeel etc., and provide a handle for people when they are trying to describe what they are experiencing.
As a nice way to send folks on their way with some more knowledge, I tend to suggest some magazines, web sites and a few of my favorite books. Just a small selection.
The Web – I still feel that the GREAT, single, undeniably indispensable site is missing, so for now it’s a combination of these places (and a few others). Twitter is of course a resource too, and you can follow me here.
Beeradvocate.com – despite all of my well documented unhappiness, and the fact that the forums are increasingly populated with 20-something ‘dude’ hipsters spouting absolute nonsense, it still remains the ‘cleanest’ web resource out there.
RateBeer.com – a better database than beeradvocate and an infinitely less insular American crowd, but the design of the site remains atrocious and the ticker mentality rules in the reviews.
Thebeerspot.com – potential, but the forums are an annoying combo of more serious beer talk and unmoderated nonsense. The addition of gifs. pictures and emoticons make it worse that ratebeer to look at sometimes!
untappd.com – database still a bit of a mess at the moment, but a neat, fun, social media way to record your beer consumption. NOt too much ‘information’ as such, here but some fun, social aspects and massive growth in the last 24 months.
Books – Beer books can offer a LOT of different angles depending on their focus, but here’s a few I really enjoy. Each one has a specific appeal, and it’s not relly a question of choosing one over another.
Ultimate Beer – Michael Jackson – the legendary beer writer.
Great Beer Guide – Michael Jackson
Tasting Beer – Randy Mosher – I’m not in love with some of Mosher’s opinions or ideas, but this is a truly interesting read if one ignores a few pages!
The Oxford Companion to Beer – Garrett Oliver et al – Brooklyn Brewery’s Brewmaster, foodophile and high profile beer guru presides over the first attempt to write a ‘bible’ of beer. Great in places but unfortunately the 1st edition is riddled with errors. omissions and inaccuracies. May be best to wait for Ed. 2!
Magazines – Casual reading.
Beer Connoisseur magazine is definitely a more upmarket feel and feels like the Beer version of the Wine Spectator.
All About Beer is the oldest of the bunch that still offers good value.
This time around, the beers I chose and the tasting order were as follows, each one followed by the raison d’être for the choice.
1. Brewery Ommegang, Hennepin; I love the adaptability of Saison’s to act as aperitifs in any situation. I always talk about them being used as beers to welcome guests, and perhaps in the place of relatively light, white wines. Not only is Hennepin a super beer, it comes from arguably the finest American producer of all things Belgian, and represents tremendous value. It works well as an introduction to the gentler, classier side of beer. Saison’s are a huge favorite of mine in almost any tasting situation since they usually represent accessibility, style and something a little different.
2. Fuller’s, London Pride; Invariably I want an English beer in all of my tastings (unless a theme dictates that not to be possible) for more than one reason. Usually the reason is to illustrate that small, subtle and delicate can be full of flavor without the (American) need to to beaten over the head/palate by aggression. Whilst we always suffer from the fact that ‘it’s not cask’, and it’s not in its original format from the brewery, London Pride, in the bottle, in the US, is a still a beer than can exhibit some typical English characteristics in a solid manner.
3. Brouwerij Verhaeghe, Duchesse de Bourgogne; A great beer in any and every respect, but also a super beer to slip into the tasting for the unsuspecting. It offers a real window on to what a beer can be in a way that most people have never even considered before. It’s a real eye-opener and usually a great conversation starter. You’ll get some love and hate for it, but I really enjoy having it in the mix.
4. Green Flash, West Coast IPA; It’s a good idea to introduce something typically American, and of course that really means something hoppy and aggressive. There are usually plenty of candidates here and depending on what’s available at the particular time, lots of beers could substitute in here. ‘West Coast’ does the job of delivering some of that aggression but without going completely over the top. It also facilitates conversations about hop varieties.
5. Unibroue, La Fin Du Monde; I like the multi-purpose nature of La Fin Du Monde in a tasting. It’s Canadian but a Belgian Style, light in color, but sweet and high in alcohol too. In a very small tasting sample it hits a nice cross-section of bases for me and will satisfy some palates that require less bitterness.
My tasting notes on each of the beers – some personal notes on these five, and ideas about where to go next.
With a group of 8 tasters, 4-5 oz pours for each person, and 8% tax and tip included, the price per head works out at around $22.00. Not the cheapest way to do things, but these ARE bar prices with service and tax included. You could do a similar tasting at home for a lot less, so bear the ‘venue cost’ in mind when considering the $.